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County's senators split on slots

February 26, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Two of Washington County's three senators said they will vote in favor of slots this week.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, will vote to allow 15,500 machines at three racetracks and three stand-alone slots parlors.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he opposes slots at any location.

"To me, the number of places isn't the issue. The issue is do you want it in Maryland or not," Mooney said.

The senators' votes will be the same as last year, when the Senate passed a slots bill but it died in the House Ways and Means Committee.

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Last week, Hafer vowed to vote against the bill because he favored slots at racetracks only. On Wednesday, Hafer said he had changed his mind.

"The governor got ahold of me," he said.

Hafer said he realizes education funding is in jeopardy without the gambling money and his vote will help send the issue to the House.

"If the House doesn't deal with it, I think there will be a lot of new members after the next election," he said.

Although it's expected to pass the Senate, the fate of slots in the House is murky at best right now.

If it passes the House with changes, Hafer said he's reserving his right to vote against the slots bill in its final form.

Mooney, who often leads floor fights on legislation he opposes, said he doesn't plan to offer any amendments to the slots bill when the Senate begins debate on the contentious issue today.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's, said the Senate must vote on slots this week.

Waiting behind it is legislation that would repeal the so-called trigger mechanism in the $1.3 billion Thornton education package that the General Assembly passed two years ago. The trigger mechanism requires the legislature to take a vote this year to keep the money flowing.

Miller wants to repeal the trigger before next Wednesday to give the legislature time to override a possible veto by Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

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